Egypt's oldest liberal party faces controversy over alliance with Brotherhood

Egypt's oldest liberal party faces controversy over alliance with Brotherhood

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Wed, 07/09/2011 - 22:12

As political parties aim to make headway in the post-Mubarak era and ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for November, many have banded together to form a coalition in an effort to increase their chances of success.

And while the Egyptian Bloc comprises leftist, secular and liberal parties in an alliance that is based on broad ideological commonalities, the Democratic Alliance for Egypt aligns Islamist parties - including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party - with liberal parties like Wafd and Nasserist parties like Karama.

Though the alliance is championed by the Wafd’s chairman al-Sayed al-Badawi, it has led to some grumblings within Wafd. There are two reasons: one derives from history and the other from a fear that the party’s nationalist liberal ideas could be compromised.

In 1984, Wafd formed an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood ahead of parliamentary elections, which ended in disputes and losses at the ballot box. Party members feel that history could be repeating itself with the current alliance.

Essam Shiha, a member of the party’s high board and member of the alliance’s parliamentary coordinating committee, said: “Yes there are objections within the party, a number of members don’t want this alliance because they feel it serves the interests of the Brotherhood more than of Wafd.”

Shiha contends that the Brotherhood readily accepted the alliance because it wanted to deflect criticism of the party's religious nature in the wake of its official political debut after 25 January. In the Mubarak era, the Brotherhood was a banned group and its members ran for parliament as independent candidates.

As for Wafd, the party wished to initiate national dialogue with various political powers in order to build a consensus on the constitution, but when the constitution-first argument was derailed, its alliance began to serve electoral goals only.

Secretary general of the party, Fouad Badrawy, felt that disagreements were exaggerated by media reports, and differences of opinion did not necessarily mean a split within the party.

“It’s normal that in this type of coordination, that some might have fears, but Wafd will not deviate from its principles and beliefs. Coordination doesn’t mean we agree on everything. And this is an alliance with many parties, not just the Freedom and Justice Party,” he said.

Media reports had stated that members of the party’s higher authority were angered when the Freedom and Justice Party reneged on its prior pledge to refrain from using religious slogans in Tahrir Square during a primarily Islamist rally on 29 July.

However, Wahid Abdel Meguid, head of the alliance’s parliamentary coordination committee and former member of Wafd, said differences already existed within the party and the alliance was a good excuse for the internal opposition to voice dissent.

“It was more about opposition to Badawi, who saw it was in the interests of the party to form the alliance,” he said. “There is a minority allied within the party and loyal to former chairman Mahmoud Abaza and the disagreement over the alliance stems from that.”

However, Abdel Meguid added that such opposition has been muted recently because of a realization that the party’s interests lie in keeping leadership disputes at bay.

Speaking about the alliance, he said: “It's a liberal, Nasserist, Islamist alliance and was created to end polarization in Egyptian politics. We should be having this fight, but we should [also] be trying to build a new republic and counter remnants of the old regime. Everyone is aware that any differences between groups is secondary to that.”

Shiha stated that he had joined the coordination committee despite his opposition to Wafd joining the alliance, and he later discovered that it was the “Brotherhood that needed the alliance more than Wafd.”

“Some leaders in the party believe we should turn a new page with the Brotherhood. This approach is adopted by Badawi to ensure that there’s no societal division along religious lines,” he added, “and also so they don’t get be painted [as promoting] a party of the faithful which would mean other parties are apostates.”